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Consultant: Community group is key to Coachman Park

Veronica Brezina

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Imagine Clearwater rendering. Frontier Communications will install a public Wi-Fi and communications platform downtown that will connect to the project. Image: Stantec.

A new community support group is in the works to help form the programming for Clearwater’s reimagined Coachman Park. 

During a Monday city meeting, South Florida-based Kathy Blaha Consulting’s presentation described how a community-formed citizen group, dubbed Friends of Coachman Park, would allow the city to have a stronger connection with the community in developing programming for the waterfront park, and attracting investment. 

Blaha said she’s hosted multiple sessions with a working group made of interested citizens and stakeholders. The group first evaluated the city’s master plan and the values the park should reflect, especially as the $83 million project, anchored by an amphitheater, differs from other similar projects as it’s utilizing public money rather than raising funds, or being fueled by private investments. 

“The vision has already been vetted by 1,500 folks who expressed their views [in workshops and meetings], we want to make sure it creates value and has that entrepreneurial look at what that private sector could do, and it becomes equitable,” Blaha said. 

The group would become a liaison for the public and the city solely focusing on the park section, not the amphitheater, which will be operated by Ruth Eckerd Hall. 

Blaha presented case studies to illustrate the important role these types of groups play in a park’s success: 

Case study: Friends of the: Seattle Waterfront

  • HotSpot was a three-year park activation pilot presented by Friends of Waterfront Seattle in partnership with a local university. It was a research and development platform for diverse cultural and community activities, that helped to determine the best mix of programming for the park.
  • Friends of Coachman Park has collected data on visitors, safety and general satisfaction that allows it to program with the best understanding of what visitors want to see.

Case Study: Waterloo Conservancy, Austin

  • From the start they saw how events helped them get better feedback from the community, allowing them to connect with community members who would never come to a formal feedback session.
    • They use their programs as engagement tools while they are hosting events such as Creekshow, a 10-night light show. 

Another case study was the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. park in Philadelphia. 

“It was a place that was abandoned and difficult to get to. It took marketing, rebranding and promoting to drive people to that site. Not unlike Coachman Park, where the park will close for a year or year-and-a-half for construction. We will be getting people used to coming back to the site,” Blaha said. 

In the Austin case, Blaha said, “They did a very good job of community engagement, and we talked a lot about how they did that through programming, not so much holding public meetings or putting things online, but really driving people to the site and using that to gather information.” 

Blaha said there’s already been interest from institutions such as the YMCA and Clearwater Arts Alliance to have a presence in the park and/or work with the city. 

“What we’ve seen in other cities is that private-public-partnership model understands community connection and creates more confidence in investors and funders to help support what that vision is,” she said. 

The next step is for the group to engage with innovators who can bring experiential ideas and expertise in art and culture, and education through pilot programs or becoming vendors/tenants at the park. 

Clearwater council member David Allbritton said he supports the activation of the park and commended the efforts on forming a group before the park opens in July 2023. 

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